Karlo Marx and Fredrich Engels / Came to the checkout at the 7-11

by Scott McLemee on April 24, 2014

Henry has nudged me a little, every so often, towards participating more in the life of Crooked Timber—or participating at all, really, since it’s been almost four years since my last posting. Fair enough. And so now, without further ado: Here I am again, ready to complain.

The Marxist Internet Archive (marxists.org) is a vast and growing resource, run entirely by donated labor, and as polylingual as circumstances permit. (Do they have Trotsky in Tagalog? Indeed they do.) Yesterday, a notice appeared in the Archive’s Facebook group, and also on its homepage, saying that Lawrence & Wishart’s lawyers demand removal of material from the Marx-Engels Collected Works: “Accordingly, from 30th April 2014, no material from MECW is available from marxists.org. English translations of Marx and Engels from other sources will continue to be available.”

Responding to L&W’s demand in a suitable manner would require someone with Marx’s or Engels’s knack for invective and scatology, and I’m not even going to try. But the idea that most of their work is going to be removed from the website on May Day is just grotesque.

Chances are the archive volunteers never contacted the press before putting the material up because they assumed, reasonably enough, that an edition prepared largely if not entirely with the support of old-fashioned, Soviet-era Moscow gold was not anybody’s private intellectual property—that the works of Marx and Engels now belong to the commons. They just want people to be able to read Marx and Engels.

Somehow it has not occurred to Lawrence & Wishart that, by enlarging the pool of people aware of and reading the Collected Works, the archive is actually expanding the audience (and potential market) for L & W’s books, including the somewhat pricey MECW volumes themselves, available only in hardback at $25-50 per volume. I’m stressing the bottom line here, given that the press’s decision is rational only on the narrowest conception of it. But a piece of synchronicity involving another CTer underscores just how much the left can learn from, of all things, the sectarian right:

About the time the Marxist Internet Archive announced that it would be taking down all the MECW material, Corey and I both, by coincidence, were availing ourselves of radically under-priced materials from the enemy’s publishing apparatus. He’d received an order containing dirt-cheap copies of Bastiat from the Liberty Fund, while a day earlier I had downloaded free digital editions of the major Austrian School books on theory of value and the socialist-calculation debate from the Mises Institute website. There’s more to neoliberal hegemony than loss-leader pricing, but as ideological combatants those people know what they’re doing.

If Lawrence & Wishart still considers itself a socialist institution, its treatment of the Archive is uncomradely at best, and arguably much worse; while if the press is now purely a capitalist enterprise, its behavior is merely stupid. I hope some of you will get in touch with the press to say that, or something else appropriate. Here’s the contact information:

Lawrence & Wishart
99a Wallis Road
London E9 5LN
subs and orders:
T: 01621 741607
editorial:
T: 020 8533 2506
F: 020 8533 736

Managing Editor: Sally Davison. sally@lwbooks.co.uk
Finance Director: Avis Greenaway. avis@lwbooks.co.uk
Permissions: permissions@lwbooks.co.uk
Website: Becky Luff office@lwbooks.co.uk
Promotions: Katharine Harris Katharine@lwbooks.co.uk

{ 62 comments }

1

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 04.24.14 at 8:38 pm

2

Michael Carr 04.24.14 at 10:17 pm

IIRC the relevant, pre-1991, volumes of the MECW on their copyright page still give (the long-defunct) Progress Publishers of Moscow as the copyright holder. At the very least it would seem that Lawrence & Wishart was only granted permission to publish, rather than the controlling copyright.

3

bob mcmanus 04.24.14 at 10:26 pm

Or, I presume still including the MECW for the next few days, you can pick up the MIA on 500 gb HD for only $86 which is somewhat less than $1500 from L & W. Of course, the Archive includes incredible additional value.

4

Bruno Leipold 04.24.14 at 10:42 pm

What an idiotic decision. Thanks for the addresses, I’ve just emailed them.

5

Matt 04.24.14 at 11:22 pm

Don’t hammer the site too hard when copying it for offline use.
But copy the site for offline use.

wget -w 5 -mk –limit-rate=100k https://www.marxists.org

6

Matt 04.24.14 at 11:26 pm

Wait, no, the site is absolutely huge. Just grab the disappearing content first.

wget -w 5 -mk –limit-rate=100k https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/cw/

7

bob mcmanus 04.24.14 at 11:32 pm

This one just gives me a sad. I went over to L & W and downloaded a couple free article collections. They ( and Verso, Historical Materialism, Pluto) ain’t exactly Elsevier. My guess is that the MECW shelf sold mostly to institutions was a major income base for L & W, and help fund a lot of the rest of the list. They likely let MIA slide for years (it’s a little hard to believe they were unaware) because MIA did the work of transcribing into electronic form, but now the hardbound shelf is declining in sales and maybe L & W need their own online version as an income stream. I don’t see how both MIA and L & W could have the same copies.

Or maybe not. Maybe the current publications cover their own publication costs and the overhead. But I doubt it.

The Web will have its casualties.

8

Kerim Friedman 04.25.14 at 2:14 am

I remember, about 15 years ago, they removed the edited version of Gramsci’s The Prison Notebooks for copyright reasons.

9

h 04.25.14 at 3:11 am

10

engels 04.25.14 at 3:43 am

Thanks, ‘h’

11

Maynard Handley 04.25.14 at 4:35 am

“We will hang the capitalists ourselves with the rope that they sell us.”
Motto of the Chinese Communist Party, but just as applicable here…

12

Mike Schilling 04.25.14 at 5:01 am

Promotions: Katharine Harris

There’s your problem right there. When the L&W board decided this, she counted the votes.

13

Matt_L 04.25.14 at 11:06 am

I am sure most of the stuff people would like to use, say for educational purposes like university classes, is sold by other presses and more cheaply in the paperback editions. I was thinking of teaching Capital in an intellectual history class. I would have assigned the on-line version, but now I am pretty sure my students and I can pick up the Penguin or Dover editions for a pittance. In either case I won’t be buying the hardback version from L & W. And if my library needed the hardback version of the collected works, I’d tell them to buy it used through Alibris or eBay or something.

I am trying to figure out the economic rationale, or business model. Even if L & W were going to post their own edition on-line, I doubt that they could actually make a buck from individual users. Maybe they are cleaning up their intellectual property profile to sell to an on-line database / intellectual property horde like Elseviere? I could see someone trying to sell an annual subscription to Marx & Engels collected works for a $1200 a year subscription instead of selling a paltry number of hardbacks.

14

LemmusLemmus 04.25.14 at 11:47 am

They probably put a lot of labour into it.

15

Captain Moonlight 04.25.14 at 12:14 pm

I’d like to see a post on what Marx said that was both original and true.

I personally think this could easily be done in three or four paragraphs, as most of what Marx said was wrong or simply gibberish.

But that doesn’t mean Marx is unimportant. Indeed, as Peter Singer once famously said, in a sense “we are all Marxists now”. This includes conservatives, not that they would ever admit it.

I think Marx’s works sit unread on umpteen bookshelves as a signifier of one’s values and ideology. This is because reading them is like poking oneself in the eye-socket with a toothpick; it is far better to let others carry out this task and to read the better quality plain English interpretations.

16

DG 04.25.14 at 2:07 pm

[Here’s the email I sent to everyone at L&W if you’d like to use it]:

I write with grave concern regarding Lawrence & Wishart’s recent demand that marxists.org take down all of Marx & Engels collected works by May 1. This is a poor business decision on your part and a betrayal of the political values which you base your publishing identity on.

In both the music industry and in publishing, it’s been widely recognized that free distribution of low-quality materials online has little to no effect on the purchasing of higher-quality versions elsewhere and generally increases sales. Even the business press recognizes this. Heavy readers get a taste online first and then buy. This is certainly the path I followed and you’ll be hurting your potential customer base if you continue with your takedown.

Further, the sorts of collectors and academics who can afford your hardcovers are a distinctly different user base from many of the people who get the most out of marxists.org. These works and their translations are an invaluable resource to poor and working-class readers the world over and are a fantastic gateway drug into political thinking and political activism. They will suffer here without your gaining much at all.

If you really do base your publishing identity in your history with the British Communist party and your “independent radical” culture, then you can do no greater disservice to those values than locking up the collected works. It is a deeply insulting betrayal of radical political values to claim intellectual property over texts which form the bases of anti-capitalist movements the world over and it is clear that you haven’t given any consideration to the messages of those texts.

Finally, you are fighting a losing battle. The Collected Works which you are trying to steal back from the public domain, on May Day no less, have already been shared widely on various torrent sites, file-sharing services, and mirrors of marxists.org. Shutting down one website means readers will just share it elsewhere and with great fervor–egged on by your reactionary advances.

Why not work with marxists.org to bring their readership to your collected editions? Why not keep the low-quality online materials free but include links to your works, directing purchasers that way? Why not keep the low-quality materials online as a public service, content in the acknowledgement that academics will find you elsewhere? Why not do anything but this? Should you keep moving forward, the reason why is quite clear: You care nothing for these ideas or the people who care for them, and your identity as a radical independent publisher is a sham performance with no political content designed to sap activist energy directly into your bank accounts.

Please reconsider.

17

Steve Palmer 04.25.14 at 2:29 pm

Your unsubstantiated suggestion that MIA did not contact L&W, with the attendant implication that MIA “brought this on its own head” or “had it coming”, is absolutely untrue.
Despite its disagreement with bourgeois fantasies of “intellectual property”, MIA scrupulously observes copyright law for practical reasons, precisely in order to try to avoid this kind of unfortunate event. The development of relationships with copyright holders over an extended period of time has enabled MIA to put many works online.
Please check your facts before starting this kind of baseless rumour which can only damage the MIA.

18

Einde O'Callaghan 04.25.14 at 3:14 pm

I work on the MIA and I’d like to clarify a couple of things:
1. What we”ve been asked to take down are the texts from the first 10 volumes of the MECW that are under copyright, i.e. those texts that were translated under the auspices of L&W, International Publishers of NY and Pioneer of Moscow.
2. The major works will still be available – including Capital – as the copyrights on the translations have long expired.
3. We didn’t get a letter from solicitors – we got a request from the company, admittedly with the hint that if we didn’t comply a solicitor’s letter would follow.
4. We were aware of the copyright status but had an agreement that they could stay as long as we didn’t add any more volumes. We abided by this agreement.
5. The agreement was subject to the agreement of all parties concerned and could be terminated by any of the three publishers.
6. L&W have now made use of their option to cancel – and we will respect their request.
7. We hope that at some stage L&W will reconsider their decision.
8. We will continue to make the widest range of Marxist and related materials possible available free of charge on the Internet.
9. We are gratified by the wide support we have received since we had to make this regrettable announcement.

19

James O'Keefe 04.25.14 at 3:48 pm

I am sure that the Mises Institute has lots of wealthy oligarchs and proto-oligarchs to back them which allows them give such books away on the web. Left-wing radical publishers not so much.

That said, to pull these works on a claim of copyright is most most uncomradely and counter to the objective of spreading Marxist thought. Hats off to the folks who are torrenting it.

20

Bruno Leipold 04.25.14 at 4:41 pm

21

Trader Joe 04.25.14 at 5:38 pm

@13
“Maybe they are cleaning up their intellectual property profile to sell to an on-line database / intellectual property horde like Elseviere?”

My guess is that this, or some near iteration of it, is closest to the pin. L&W doesn’t just wake up one morning and suddenly decide their copyrights over decades old work that doesn’t earn anything are being infringed. They probably have plans to sell, lease, license the rights to someone and they decided to tidy up the paperwork to make it more attractive. A betting man would say put it all back up 6 months later and they won’t say a thing.

22

JW Mason 04.25.14 at 6:16 pm

I am sure that the Mises Institute has lots of wealthy oligarchs and proto-oligarchs to back them which allows them give such books away on the web. Left-wing radical publishers not so much.

Uh what. It’s all already on the web. No subsidy is required to leave it there. The proto-oligarchs here are the ones using the power of the state to steal back the commons.

Cases like this really bring out the black-is-white language of IP piracy. Surely the pirates here are the ones using the threat of violence to disrupt an ongoing exchange in order to appropriate a little booty — which, as Scott points out, may well not even be enough to defray the costs of their pillaging expedition.

23

Chris Brooke 04.25.14 at 6:42 pm

24

JW Mason 04.25.14 at 6:55 pm

And their reply amounts to: “it’s ok for us to use the power of the state to prevent people from reading Marx because we are Good Coomunists and we are going to do something awesome with whatever rents we can squeeze out of our copyrights.” Raskolnikov had nothing on these guys.

25

JW Mason 04.25.14 at 6:57 pm

Oh and also: “if you were real radicals, you’d respect the sacred rights of Property.”

26

James Heartfield 04.25.14 at 7:22 pm

Lawrence and Wishart have a point, don’t they? If nobody pays for the translations then the translations won’t happen. I don’t see Haymarket, or Verso, or any other radical publisher giving away their goods for free.

27

Matt 04.25.14 at 7:51 pm

Looks like Matt_L hit the nail on the head:

I am trying to figure out the economic rationale, or business model. Even if L & W were going to post their own edition on-line, I doubt that they could actually make a buck from individual users. Maybe they are cleaning up their intellectual property profile to sell to an on-line database / intellectual property horde like Elseviere? I could see someone trying to sell an annual subscription to Marx & Engels collected works for a $1200 a year subscription instead of selling a paltry number of hardbacks.

From the L&W statement:

We are currently negotiating an agreement with a distributor that will offer a digital version of the Collected Works to university libraries worldwide. This will have the effect of maintaining a public presence of the Works, in the public sphere of the academic library, paid for by public funds. This is a model of commons that reimburses publishers, authors and translators for the work that has gone into creating a book or series of books.

28

engels 04.25.14 at 7:53 pm

it’s ok for us to use the power of the state to prevent people from reading Marx

They’re not ‘prevent[ing] people from reading Marx’, but demanding that people who use a specific translation, to which they own the copyright, do so with their permission.

I assume it’s not okay for me to steal books from Verso on the grounds they’re radicals and should support the liberation of private property?

It does seem dickish to do it on Mayday. Would it be possible for MIA’s supporters to reach a financial agreement with them?

29

JW Mason 04.25.14 at 8:03 pm

They’re not ‘prevent[ing] people from reading Marx’, but demanding that people who use a specific translation, to which they own the copyright, do so with their permission.

Or else the cops will come for them.

You might want to change your handle.

30

engels 04.25.14 at 8:20 pm

Because Engels was an anarchist?

31

godoggo 04.25.14 at 8:21 pm

Somehow I suspect that he will.

Hey, look, over there! abb1!

32

engels 04.25.14 at 8:28 pm

To be clear, I’m not certain LW are right, but I don’t subscribe to the view that because they’re socialist publisher they can’t enforce their copyrights – it’s not a principle I’d want to universalise…

33

Wonks Anonymous 04.25.14 at 8:51 pm

Who actually are the big donors to the Mises Institute? I vaguely recall hearing that there was some really old guy who died and then their funding dried up, but I’m not at all confident that was them. opensecrets.org only lists Mises PAC 2008, whose largest donor gave $800. We can presume its not the Kochs, since the Rothbardians tend to rant about the “Kochtopus”.

34

engels 04.25.14 at 10:08 pm

Ps. I would sign a petition urging them not to do it, and to work something out with MIA (and for the Gramsci too) but would be less aggressive about it then some commenters (and lecturing them on the best way of making profits probably doesn’t help.)

35

engels 04.25.14 at 10:12 pm

Pps. Copying the same email to everyone in their office probably doesn’t either.

36

Rick Kuhn 04.26.14 at 12:34 am

This statement by L&W is very odd

“We are currently negotiating an agreement with a distributor that will offer a digital version of the Collected Works to university libraries worldwide.”

There already is an expensive digital version of the first 47 volumes (out of 50) of MECW, access to which is sold by InteLex as part of its Past Masters collections. InteLex seems to be part of the UK corporation Academic Rights Press. According to them, the whole Past Masters series is used by 600 institutions world wide. As access can be purchased to individual collections, the number of people who can use this version of MECW is very limited.

37

JW Mason 04.26.14 at 12:34 am

It’s always nice, “engels,” to see you living up to the standard of your great namesake. In any conflict between capital and humanity, it’s our unsparing duty to ask capital to be nicer — as long as we don’t make a nuisance of ourselves.

38

engels 04.26.14 at 12:40 am

No idea why you think I think that but I think we’ve reached the ‘ whatever dude’ stage of the dialectic…

39

Jim Henley 04.26.14 at 12:58 am

I think Marx’s works sit unread on umpteen bookshelves as a signifier of one’s values and ideology. This is because reading them is like poking oneself in the eye-socket with a toothpick; it is far better to let others carry out this task and to read the better quality plain English interpretations.

Man, I completely agreed with this before I actually read something by Marx rather than taking other people’s word for it. One afternoon I needed to quickly check a quote in the XVIIIth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. Ended up reading it in one sitting. It was full of piss and vinegar and completely engaging.

Perhaps Capital really is a slog. It looks awfully thick! But I’m no longer going to assume it’s dreary without having tried it.

40

Chris M 04.26.14 at 3:57 am

If you are at all considered with employees everywhere being paid a living wage, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to consider that the employees of Lawrence & Wishart deserve a living wage?

41

LFC 04.26.14 at 4:26 am

Capt M’Light:
I think Marx’s works sit unread on umpteen bookshelves as a signifier of one’s values and ideology. This is because reading them is like poking oneself in the eye-socket with a toothpick

I doubt Capt M’Light has read much if any Marx, b/c this judgment is pretty weird, to put it mildly.

42

js. 04.26.14 at 6:16 am

It was such low hanging fruit… It wasn’t so much low hanging fruit as fruit that fallen off the tree and was beginning to rot slightly. It felt almost wrong to pick squish it, but I’m glad other people did.

43

Sam 04.26.14 at 1:05 pm

Can someone clarify the actual copyright history? I’m mainly just curious for historical reasons. I mean, my volume one says (c) Progress Publishers, Moscow, just mentioning L&W as one of several folks involved in “preparing” it. I take them at their word when they say they own the translations but am curious how they ended up with it (and why it’s just for the first 10 vols). The money did come from Moscow, right? It’s such a massive project, not even a well-funded academic press could take it on now. And are there any underlying rights, for example to the original manuscripts in archives, etc.?

It’s not such a big deal for the left, since the stuff can be easily downloaded (which I’m doing as we speak, using a program called HTTrack) and will no doubt be mirrored and relatively easy to find for anyone who needs it. What’s a little sadder and just strange is that no scholarly press has taken over at least some of it – a modern critical edition of the letters, e.g.

My personal utopia would be a crowd-sourced (and retranslated) original Creative Commons edition at least of those first ten volumes, with updated footnotes, etc. Because among other things, MECW is pretty dated and seriously propagandistic to boot.

44

Einde 04.26.14 at 2:07 pm

As we at MIA understand it the MECW was always a joint project of Progress, L&W and International Publishers (NY). The copyright exists on the newly translated works that emerged from this project. The reason that only volumes 1 to 10 are at stake here is that during the 1990s a number of volunteers started to digitise the MECW. They had got to volume 10 when MIA was contacted by representatives of the consortium pointing out that the new translations were under copyright. We have never contested this claim and it has been the basis of our actions throughout.

An agreement was reached that MIA could keep the 10 volumes online subject to the agreement of all the copyright holders. At MIA we don’t have the resources to fight a long case in the bourgeois courts over the exact status of Progress Publishers etc. And we have no interest in bankrupting a small radical publisher if we did indeed win a court case after a couple of decades – indeed legal fees would probably have bankrupted all parties concerned long before a decision was ever reached by the courts.

L&W have now exercised their option to cancel the arrangement and we at MIA will abide by the agreement we made a decade or so ago. We deeply regret L&W’s decision and feel that they have made a serious error of judgement that has alienated many potential readers and will not necessarily bring them any more income than they would have received if they had left the 10 volumes online at MIA. Our response to L&W can be found here: http://www.marxists.org/admin/legal/lw-response.html

At MIA we continue to be committed to making the works of Marx, Engels and many others available free of charge on the Internet – discussions are being carried out offline as to how we can replace the texts we are being forced to remove – but this will of necessity be a long term project if L&W don’t change their minds.

Nevertheless, let me be clear that at MIA we bear L&W no ill-will and are pleased that we were able to host these texts for a decade – but, quite naturally, we deeply regret that L&W has taken this decision. It is particularly regrettable that we have to take these texts down on the eve of International Workers’ Day.

45

actio 04.26.14 at 8:19 pm

Sam: “My personal utopia would be a crowd-sourced (and retranslated) original Creative Commons edition at least of those first ten volumes, with updated footnotes, etc.”

The UCL project Transcribe Bentham is a good example to follow.
http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/transcribe-bentham/
Of course in the case of Marx a retranslation would involve much more work but project structure could still be learned from.

The big drawback with a paywalled university library subscription only version of classical works is that you can’t simply post a link to a specific section to anyone and be sure that they can access it.

46

QS 04.26.14 at 11:01 pm

This sentence aggravates me.

47

QS 04.26.14 at 11:02 pm

These works are not some ancient birthright of the radical left, as has been implied by many of our critics.

This sentence aggravates me.

48

J Thomas 04.27.14 at 10:12 am

QS, maybe you should look for the source of your feelings and see what to do about it.

After all, property and intellectual property are the foundation of our civilization. Without those rights we would fall into some sort of undifferentiated chaos.

So the question is, who has inherited this wealth? Should it belong to Marx’s living relatives, or to the Russian government who could have inherited them from the USSR, or who?

49

actio 04.27.14 at 11:41 am

J Thomas: Big scary words! But surely no “undifferentiated chaos” would appear if the socially constructed and historically very shifting duration periods for intellectual property were modified to last only 20 years. More people would have access to, and make use of, intellectual resources and that would all in all be for the better.

50

QS 04.27.14 at 12:12 pm

It’s aggravating because it’s a total red herring. The rest of your post is but trolling.

51

J Thomas 04.27.14 at 12:50 pm

QS, agreed.

On the face of it, this is a rather dry uninteresting topic. A publisher claims copyright over a valuable resource. Do they really own it, and should they? It’s only the connection with Marx that gives it poignancy.

We might get a similar effect from a battle over reprint rights to Abby Hoffman’s Steal This Book, particularly if Hoffman himself was suing.

Since the connection to Marx is the only thing that makes it a story, I can’t consider that a red herring.

And sure, I was trolling too. It looked like fun.

52

JW Mason 04.27.14 at 5:16 pm

If you are at all considered with employees everywhere being paid a living wage, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to consider that the employees of Lawrence & Wishart deserve a living wage?

I wonder who suggested to L&W the line, “Yes, wer’re stealing from the commons, but in our defense we treat our employees like crap too.”

property and intellectual property are the foundation of our civilization.

Well then.

53

J Thomas 04.28.14 at 1:51 am

“But surely no “undifferentiated chaos” would appear if the socially constructed and historically very shifting duration periods for intellectual property were modified to last only 20 years. More people would have access to, and make use of, intellectual resources and that would all in all be for the better.”

I think it depends.

Usually the value of copyrights depreciates fairly rapidly. Publishers usually sell books like Kleenex, that get them out the door in whatever quantity might sell and pulp the excess, and whatever it was they sold 20 years ago, they’ve got plenty more to sell now. So most writers wouldn’t lose much if copyright was 20 years. The ones who do, it could be argued that they have produced something of big value to society that ought to be spread more by then. Maybe they could be put on a list of contributors to humanity, or get a frameable letter from the President or something.

But patents are different. Often it takes 10 years or more to get from patent to commercial product. And that process can cost a whole lot of money. A short patent run would often be completely useless.

So I tend to think, rather than have a 20 year patent we should look for better ways to encourage innovation. Patents don’t work well enough. Likely they often hinder innovation as much or more than they encourage it. This isn’t an approach that needs small tweaks, it just does not work well and it needs to be replaced.

54

T. Mrett 04.28.14 at 4:13 pm

Sam, what do you mean by “MECW is pretty dated and seriously propagandistic to boot”?

55

David Walters 04.28.14 at 8:49 pm

L&W has updated their response to us on their web site.

David Walters
MIA Admin

56

Brett Dunbar 04.30.14 at 7:27 pm

@53

While most books are out of print within about five years of publication, most book sales are of books that are continuously in print for decades. Basically a lot of books are published that get one printing and that’s it. However the total number of copies of these books is rather small. Most of the books actually sold are of those which will continue to sell at a lower rate for many years. A considerable part of the income of an established author is the continuing royalties on older titles. Relatively long copyright terms do little to benefit unsuccessful authors as the copyright is of little or no value, but are of large benefit to successful authors. The same is basically true of publishers, a lot of their total income is from on going sales of older titles.

57

J Thomas 04.30.14 at 8:48 pm

@56

If profits were cut on the most successful books after some decent time — 20 years, 40 years, whatever — then prices on those continuing-successful books could drop which would be a good thing for society.

Publishers would have more incentive to make more tries when the total success was limited, but at the same time they might have less cash to fund new attempts. I’m not clear on that. Cheaper old books might tend slightly more to crowd out new books. Publishers that already had everything set up could would have lower costs than somebody new publishing a recently-uncopyrighted work, but that would still be less profit than if they had continuing monopolies.

If you’re a writer and your 20-year-old work turns public domain, that *might* be an advertisement for your recent work. But if it’s still selling well of course you’d hate to give up the cash just because the government decided you’d gotten enough rewards in the first 20 years.

I just don’t know.

58

Bruce Wilder 04.30.14 at 8:55 pm

You used to have to renew copyright periodically, in order to retain it for the theoretical full term. Sensible. We don’t do sensible any more.

59

David Walters 04.30.14 at 8:58 pm

Prior to the revision of copyright law, one had to renew the copyright twice, each for 28 years. That’s not the case here.

60

Ronan(rf) 04.30.14 at 9:11 pm

This

“There are very few radical publishers left in the world today – that is because it is incredibly difficult to keep them afloat. As a small radical publishers ourselves, we are of course familiar with the complexity and difficulty of publishing in the digital age. The debate over MECW is a proxy for what L&W have been continuously grappling with for the last two decades: how to run a sustainable radical publishing company in this new context. We would ask people to remember that we are just fellow human beings doing our best to make a contribution in difficult circumstances.”

from L&W seems the obvious point.
Why people would want a largely symbolic victory (retaining access to this specific translation) over a practical one (keeping an independent radical publisher afloat) is beyond me.
Why not get 120 people to create a $10 direct debit for the next 10 (?) years (or some sort of gaurantee) and pay L&W for the rights ?

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Brett Dunbar 05.01.14 at 12:24 am

Registration mainly functioned to fleece non-American writers of their deserved royalties, the USA used to be notorious for copyright piracy as it was far to easy to fall victim to the arcane rules, renewal, although less of a problem, was a substantial headache and it was much too easy to accidentally lose copyright. The Berne rules tend to benefit the creators of works as it is automatic and of long duration.

One reason for having a life + term is that if copyright expired after a fixed period then someone who had created something in their youth and then little else, Harper Lee for example, might be left without an income in their old age. The continuing royalties can act effectively as pension. Having copyright expire on death or shortly afterwards would not give the publisher sufficient security to publish an elderly but still productive author, Jack Williamson for example who was 97 when his last novel was published, he might have had difficulty getting published when over 80 even though he lived almost another two decades.

Having a fairly long posthumous period is useful for those artists who die relatively young, which is why Italy had a life + 64 and Germany a Life + 70 following the second world war.

The EUs standardisation on life + 70 occurred because the only way to reconcile the Berne rule of least term (if two countries have different terms then for a national of the state with the shorter term that term applies for them in both) and the EU principal of non-discrimination (you cannot treat the nationals of another EU state less favourably than your own nationals, for example, by giving them a shorter copyright term) was if all EU states had the same term. Germany refused point blank to reduce its life + 70 partly due to the government of Bavaria wished to retain control of the works of Hitler. The UK and France both wanted to keep life + 50 but accepted that the Germans were determined to have their way.

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Mike 05.01.14 at 4:18 pm

I don’t know who Sally Davison or Lawrence & Wishart are (or didn’t until now), but like many others have benefited from marxists.org and am not happy with the former. No prob if you have access to a research library, but many don’t. You’d think Marx for the masses is a no-brainer.

I expect old Karl would enjoy this little imbroglio; if I recall he was highly attuned to the explosive potential of new technologies, including in communications. Ms Davison says this is a matter of survival for L & W. Buh, bye.

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